BY MELANIE BUCK –
Polk County Clerk Terri Harrison swore in city and county officials, police officers, and firemen as 2015 begins, each taking an oath and promising to do their best. On New Year’s Eve, Harrison swore-in Mena Police Officers and Firemen at City Hall. Harrison also swore County and Municipal Officials in Polk County District Court on Friday, January 2.
Do you ever wonder what all of these officials do? What are their responsibilities, whom do they answer to, etc.? Here you will find all of Polk County’s elected officials and a brief look into what we can expect from each.
When looking at the pyramid of county officials, the County Judge is at the top. Polk County is led by County Judge Brandon Ellison. Ellison was re-elected to this position in November to serve his second term. Comparable to a CEO, the county judge is an executive branch position whose duties include, but are not limited to, county business manager, administrator, and road commissioner. The county judge also oversees the Quorum Court as a moderator but has the power of veto.
The Quorum Court is made up of 11 Justices of the Peace (JP) and is the legislative body of government for the county. Each of the county’s 11 districts are represented by an elected JP. It is their duty to execute local legislative authority, fix annual salaries of certain county officials, and adopt ordinances necessary for the operation of county government, in addition to many more responsibilities. Collin Cannon, Harold Coogan, Ben Finley, Tommy Floyd, Tawana Gilbert, Margo Kimp, Troy Lunsford, Jim Neugent, Basil Kesterson, Terry Terrell, and Terry Scott are the JPs of Polk County.
The Circuit Clerk has the responsibility of recording and tracking civil, criminal, and juvenile divisions of the Circuit Court, in addition to recording deeds, mortgages, and powers of attorney. Polk County’s Circuit Clerk is Sharon Simmons.
Terri Harrison is the County Clerk. Duties for this position include being the official bookkeeper of county records, tax books, voting activities including registration, and providing birth and death certificates to Vital Statistics. Harrison also serves as the clerk of several councils and committees including the Quorum Court, County and Probate Courts, and the Election Commission.
Jovan Thomas is the newly elected Tax Assessor. Thomas has worked in the Assessor’s office for more than 17 years and took the place of long-time Assessor June Wiles. The primary role of the assessor is to assess real estate and personal property taxes.
The Polk County Sheriff and Tax Collector position is held by Mike Godfrey, who was uncontested in November’s election and has been Sheriff since 2011. Godfrey is in charge of the county jail, serves as bailiff for the courts, and is principle in collecting taxes to turn over to the County Treasurer.
The County Treasurer is Tanya Fretz. The treasurer is responsible for distributing all funds collected by the county.
The Circuit Judge presides over a wide range of civil and criminal cases in a court of law. Judge Jerry Ryan has been newly appointed to this position after serving as District Judge for 25 years.
Judge J.W. Looney, who just retired from Circuit Judge, was immediately appointed to the position of District Judge, presiding over misdemeanor, traffic violations, ordinance violations, and small claims cases.
City governments work much like county government although the titles change. The mayor is head of city government. In Mena, that position is held by George McKee. Hatfield is headed by Larry Strickland and Cove is led by Joan Headley. Terisia Hartley is Mayor of Vandervoort, Leon McCleskey is Mayor of Wickes, and Dwight Billings is Mayor of Grannis.
City Councilmen and Aldermen are the governing bodies of municipalities; they are much like the Quorum Court, but only presiding over their respective cities. Each municipality has several Aldermen, depending on population.
Constables are also a part of local government. A Constable’s primary responsibility is keeping the peace.
There are many more officials in the county that make sure the system runs as smoothly as possible. If you have a question or concern, or would like to know which Alderman or Constable represents your district, don’t hesitate to contact your local officials. Keep in mind, they have a job to do and can’t make everyone happy but they all do their best to keep Polk County the best place to call home.